Some planned NHS appointments will have to be postponed in order to hit the new Covid-19 booster jab target by the end of the year.
The UK government has brought forward its goal of offering every adult in England a top-up dose by a month, with the target now set for the end of December.
The change comes following growing concerns over the new Omicron Covid-19 variant, which is more transmissible than other strains.
It is feared that without added boosted protection from vaccines, there could be a “tidal wave of Omicron” in the UK which could potentially cause “very many deaths”, the Prime Minister has warned.
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In a national address on Sunday (12 December), Boris Johnson said that scientists had discovered that two vaccine doses is “simply not enough” to prevent the spread and without a mass booster campaign, the NHS could be overwhelmed.
The ramped up rollout will aim to vaccinate almost a million people per day, but it has sparked concerns among nursing leaders who have warned that NHS cancer services must be “prioritised and protected”.
Pat Cullen, general secretary and chief executive at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “We are concerned about the scale and pace of this expansion, given these same nurses are already facing huge demands under existing unsustainable pressures in every part of the UK health and care system.”
Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, the body representing NHS trusts, stressed that the NHS will do everything it can to deliver the “hugely ambitious” booster campaign, but warned it is “already beyond full stretch” and will “need to reprioritise”.
He said as more hospital staff become involved it is “likely to impact on planned care, causing some additional delays”.
A ‘national mission’
The push to offer booster doses to millions of adults by 31 December will see GP teams asked to “clinically prioritise their services to free up maximal capacity” to support the vaccination programme, NHS England has said.
This will be done alongside delivering critical appointments such as cancer, urgent and emergency care.
However, the NHS said this “might mean that for some people, routine appointments are postponed as part of the national mission to roll out boosters”.
Extra vaccination sites will be opened to meet the target alongside additional mobile units, and 42 military units will be deployed across every health region.
Clinic opening hours are to be extended to allow people to get vaccinated around the clock and at weekends, while thousands more vaccinators will be trained.
Mr Johnson said: “To hit the pace we need, we’ll need to match the NHS’s best vaccination day so far – and then beat that day after day.
“This will require an extraordinary effort.
“And as we focus on boosters and make this new target achievable, it will mean some other appointments will need to be postponed until the new year.
“But if we don’t do this now, the wave of Omicron could be so big that cancellations and disruptions, like the loss of cancer appointments, would be even greater next year.”
Mr Johsnon also said the UK government would support the devolved administrations to “accelerate” their own rollouts of booster jabs.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland would match the aim of offering boosters to all eligible adults before 2022, but added that more restrictions may be needed to tackle the new strain.
Welsh leader Mark Drakeford also said “further steps” could be required to keep the country safe and encouraged people to “make having your booster a priority”.